Lieutenant-Commander Thandeka Motsene is making waves onboard the SAS Isandlwana
When it comes to firepower, Lieutenant-Commander Thandeka Motsene is the go-to person aboard the South African Navy's frigate SAS Isandlwana.
The 33-year-old anti-air warfare officer, or weapons officer, is responsible for advising the captain of the vessel on how best to use weapons to defend the ship against attacks from the air. For security reasons, she can't go into the details of what this entails.
“When the ship is not in combat situations or advanced military operations, my job entails training gun operators to ensure that they know how to operate the weapons safely and accurately,” she explains.
Motsene's typical day aboard the ship begins with her conducting system checks to ensure that they are all operating efficiently and effectively.
Once this has been done, she briefs warfare teams on the day's programme and maintenance schedules.
“I am also expected to maintain a watch on the bridge to ensure that the ship is kept safe from collisions and groundings. I also brief the captain about personnel training, ship status and any matters related to the achievement of the ship's objectives for the duration of the time spent at sea.”
On the path to success
While Motsene's life is now at sea, that is not how she once envisaged it.
She wanted to be a pilot with the South African Air Force. However, she did not meet the weight and height requirements for the fighter aircraft's ejector seat as she was too short and lightweight.
“The Navy was my second choice, mostly because it sounded interesting and I loved the uniform.”
Born in Tembisa, Motsene lived in Viljoenskroon in the Free State until she was 11 when she moved to Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg.
After completing matric in 2001, she joined the Department of Defence's Youth Foundation Programme.
This is a skills development programme for previously disadvantaged students, which allows participants to improve their matric results so that they can pursue tertiary studies or join the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Motsene has been in her current
position for about a year and a half.
Before joining the SAS Isandlwana as its weapons officer she completed 10-month warfare course in preparation for the post.
Motsene previously served aboard the Inshore Patrol Vessel, SAS Tern as the Acting Commanding Officer, where it was her responsibility to ensure the ship was maintained in order to meet the operational requirements of the Navy.
A sea of opportunities
Motsene joined the Navy in 2003 and relishes the opportunities she has been given to thrive there.
“The fact that I am a woman in what is still considered a ‘man's world' always creates an opportunity to shine brighter, not because I need to prove anything, but simply to show that I am just as capable.”
She admits that she struggles with being referred to as 'the first woman to do this or that' each time she obtains a qualification.
“This is mostly because I feel as if it takes away the hard work that went into obtaining the qualification and instead focuses on the fact that I am a woman.”
Serving with pride
Motsene is extremely proud of the Navy.
“I have encountered women from various countries who were shocked when I told them what I do for a living, simply because they are not afforded the same opportunities in their own countries.
“It makes me proud to say that I work for an organisation that allows women to fulfil any role, be it a chef, engineer or even commanding a naval vessel.”
And while the Navy has opened the door to many opportunities, Motsene stresses that the key to success is choosing to be disciplined and putting in the hard work.
She advises other young people wanting to join the Navy to be prepared to serve and not look for self-glory.
“You are not entitled to anything in life.You have to work hard for anything you want to achieve.”
For Motsene, the hard work is far from over. Her job requires her to continue learning, especially in her specific field. She loves sharing that knowledge with her junior colleagues.
As for her future plans, Motsene can't picture herself anywhere else but serving the Navy and her country.
Writer: Noluthando Motswai Photographer: Able Seaman Chanton Prins